Hispanics constitute about 9% of the population in North Carolina. Yet this group, despite reports of their growing clout and influence, have failed to make much of a dent in the state’s politics. In part this is due to Hispanics lagging behind in terms of voter registration. While 9% of the population, they constitute less than 2% of registered voters here.

There are a couple reasons for this: cultural ambivalence about participating in the voting process, the difficulty in organizing rural Hispanics, and the disproportionate number of Hispanics who are not yet of legal voting age. Eventually this population will be large enough so that lagging registration numbers don’t matter, but at this point politicians won’t pay a price for ignoring this group, as they would in purple states like Nevada or Colorado.

The turnout rate for registered Hispanics in North Carolina was 54.3% in 2012 (the turnout rate for the total population of Hispanics/Latinos was much lower). For registered whites it was 68.6%. For registered African Americans, 70.2%.

Where do Hispanics in North Carolina tend to live? Here are the ten counties with the highest percentage of Hispanics, according to the 2010 U.S. Census:

1. Duplin (20.6%)
2. Lee (18.3%)
3. Sampson (16.5%)
4. Greene (14.3%)
5. Montgomery (14.1%)
6. Durham (13.5%)
7. Chatham (13.0%)
8. Johnston (12.9%)
9. Hoke (12.4%)
10. Mecklenburg (12.2%)

But the top ten counties where Hispanics make up the highest proportion of registered voters paints a much different picture:

1. Hoke (4.62%)
2. Cumberland (4.53%)
3. Lee (4.21%)
4. Onslow (3.93%)
5. Duplin (3.07%)
6. Mecklenburg (2.99%)
7. Harnett (2.96%)
8. Union (2.70%)
9. Wake (2.53%)
10. Durham (2.51%)

Notice how some counties in the first list change rankings or drop off the second list entirely. In Hoke, about 37% of Hispanics are registered to vote. Duplin, while having the highest percentage of Hispanics of any county, falls to #5 in the second list because less than 15% of Hispanics there are registered. In Hoke and Cumberland, the presence of Fort Bragg and Hispanics in the military probably accounts for the higher registration among Latinos. Those in Duplin County, on the other hand, are mostly migrant farm workers who speak very little English. It’s hard to reach these people, so while they’re a potential source of votes for Democrats, it’s frankly not worth the time or the effort to try to organize them. Those who want to organize the Hispanic vote for the most part are going to stick to urban areas of the state.

Where’s the Hispanic population growing the fastest? Since Election Day, 2012, the following ten counties had the largest increase in percentage share of registered Hispanics:

1. Lee (+0.58%)
2. Duplin (+0.48%)
3. Harnett (+0.38%)
4. Sampson (+0.36%)
5. Johnston (+0.28%)
6. Wayne (+0.28%)
7. Greene (+0.28%)
8. Union (+0.27%)
9. Forsyth (+0.26%)
10. Hoke (+0.26%)

Since November 6th, 2012, only two counties in North Carolina have seen their registered Hispanic proportions of the electorate lose ground – Avery and Madison counties in the Mountains. In conclusion, Hispanics offer a potential rich source of votes for Democrats, but getting them to register and turn out is easier said than done, a fact which will likely minimize their political influence for some time to come.

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